Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has held six town halls in her district this year, but some of her constituents say the Congresswoman schedules the meetings at odd hours with short notice in places far from the region's larger population centers. These constraints make them difficult for many to attend.
Let's take a look at one example. McMorris Rodgers brands all her town halls as a "Conversation with Cathy." She's hosting one of them tonight in Green Bluff from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., but you'd be forgiven for not knowing it.
She didn't list the event along with the two other "Conversations with Cathy" she promoted on her Facebook page Saturday morning. In fact, the Congresswoman only lists the event on a special "Events" page, which appears to be inaccessible from her official homepage. (None of the buttons on her main page link to the "Events" page, so you'd have to know the URL or Google "Cathy McMorris Rodgers Town Hall" if you wanted to find out about it.) The only other place to find the link is in the "About me" section of her Facebook page.
Burying information about the Green Bluff meeting seems particularly dodgy because it's the only public event she's holding during the evening this week. As several people in the Facebook announcement's comment thread point out, she's scheduled the other events during times when people are normally at work—Thursday from 3 to 4:00 p.m. and Friday from 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
McMorris Rodgers's spokesperson told me her office didn't promote the event "at the request of the Green Bluff Growers Association, because they wanted to keep the entire conversation focused on agriculture."
Michael Townshend, president of the Green Bluff Growers Association, told me by e-mail that McMorris Rodgers wrote to the organization "a few months ago" about attending one of their meetings, but he never followed up with her. "From what I understand, the Green Bluff Grange is hosting the town hall. I have had no involvement with it, nor has our association officially, however, a lot of the grange members are also members of the Green Bluff Growers, so individual farms may have been involved in the organizing," he said.
Brandy Donough, a member of Green Bluff Grange #300 and a race director for the Green Bluff Direct Marketing Association Cherry Pickers Trot & Pit Spit (it's a foot race), says McMorris Rodgers contacted her a month ago to organize the meeting.
In a message Donough said the event is "pretty much just focused on the Green Bluff area" and adds that she hopes to "give the Green Bluff residents and businesses the opportunity to ask Cathy McMorris Rodgers any questions they'd like in a town hall forum." She says she advertised the meeting on Nextdoor and on the Green Bluff Grange Facebook page, though on that page I only see information about the Keep Green Bluff Green 2018 trash-pickup event, which actually looks pretty cool, but the event is running at the same time as the Conversation with Cathy. Regardless, though the town hall is mostly intended for Green Bluff residents, Donough says "all are welcome!"
Neither Jerry LeClaire nor Cynthia Hamilton knew of the meeting in Green Bluff tonight, and both laughed when I told them about the event over the phone. Both are from the Spokane area, and both are members of Indivisible WA 5, a congressional advocacy group in Washington's 5th Congressional District. For them, this Green Bluff confusion amounts to a pretty standard evasive maneuver from their own Representative.
Though McMorris Rodgers announced 33 in-person town halls between August 1, 2013 and March 6, 2017, which "ranks her 51st in the LegiStorm's rankings for House members" according to Daniel Walters at The Inlander, the Congresswoman only held one in-person town hall in 2017. The event was held at 5:00 p.m. on a Thursday at Gonzaga, and you had to "show proof of residency within the district at the door" to get in, according to The Spokesman. That year she also held a tele-town hall in
December February, which was fraught with technical issues and only lasted 20 minutes, according to KREM 2. Another tele-town in December went off without a hitch, though, and all four this year have lasted a full-hour, McMorris Rodgers's spokesperson said.
This year, perhaps because Democrat Lisa Brown is giving CMR a run for her money, Hamilton says the congresswoman has been hosting "these little, teeny-tiny, strategically advertised town halls."
LeClaire remembers the last one on May 1st of this year. "She held one in Davenport, WA at some government meeting room at 1:15 p.m.. She announced it 24 hours in advance. If you were coming from Spokane, you had to drive 40 minutes both ways, and it was held in the early afternoon. Nineteen people showed up—seven of them were people on her government dime, and four or five of them were people who were alerted through the various networks of folks who would really like to ask her some questions," he said.
"It’s by design, this stuff," Hamilton said. "We know it because we’re trying to bird-dog it. Sometimes we find out about it with so little notice we can’t even get to where it’s going to be," she said.
LeClaire thinks that the timing and shoddy advertising suggests McMorris Rodgers is trying to rack up a list of "past events" to make it seem like she's engaging with her constituents without actually having to engage with her constituents. “Checked off another town closet!" he jokes.
McMorris Rodgers's spokesperson disputes this characterization. "Our goal is to hold a variety of different events at a variety of different times and forums to try to accommodate a variety of different people in a way that's easy and accessible for them," he said. "We've had five tele-town halls this spring. There are thousands on every call we have, and four of them have been held during the evening."
As with many other Indivisible groups across the country, WA 5 has been inviting McMorris Rodgers to town halls they set up for her in the district during recess, but she's declined all of them so far. This new round of town halls she's announced feels less like an answer to their request and more like a slap in the face.
"We worked for months to plan a reasonable forum and CMR would not respond to our invite (neither yes or no) and this morning I see that she has one of her last-minute Town Halls slated for May 31, the date that we were aiming for," said Tracy Williams, a member of Indivisible who was working to organize a town hall in Walla Walla. "We reserved a large space at our fairgrounds, had security quotes, took steps to be bipartisan and family friendly... and nada. Our high school kids wrote to her. She didn't even answer them. She is such a disappointment."
McMorris Rodgers has been a disappointment for a long time, and not just among her own constituents. As the chair of the House Republicans Conference it's her job to direct the party's messaging, which means it's her job to make the Republicans not sound like a group of people on a mission to enrich the wealthy at the expense of poor and middle-class people. Her plan for Congressional Republicans to talk endlessly about the tax cut isn't working, and other Republicans on the hill are threatening to swoop her chair even if she makes it through the upcoming election.
McMorris Rodgers's campaign spokeswoman, Ashley Stubbs, issued this statement in response to complaints from Indivisible groups about not hearing back from their Congresswoman about town halls: "These are ultra-left groups using their Westside money to ask misleading questions, push a Seattle agenda on eastern Washington, and then have the audacity to call them public forums."
When I asked LeClare what kinds of questions he'd ask McMorris Rodgers if given the forum Indivisible members have been requesting, he gave me a long list of issues. In addition to questions about Trump's tax cuts and the recent effort to defund Planned Parenthood, he said he wanted to ask about her cosponsoring The Hearing Protection Act, a bill that would repeal regulations surrounding the purchase and possession of gun barrel silencers.
"What I'd like to ask her is how getting rid of regulations on silencers—which have been accepted constitutionally since 1934—is going to make us safer. The silencers cutdown the volume quite a lot, and if you do that in a situation like the Las Vegas shooting, it’s going to be harder to find the shooter," he said.
"I’m a shooter," LeClare added. "I have a concealed carry permit. But I wear noise-canceling headphones and they work out just fine—and they’re considerably cheaper than buying a silencer for every gun that I own," he said.
"But the thing that really pissed me off as a gun-toting concealed carry owner," LeClare said, "was her support of HR 38, that Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act," which passed in the House last year. "If you have a concealed carry permit, the bill allows you to carry it around to any state. That's fine until you realize the NRA has rammed through laws in states like Idaho that allow people to carry a gun without a permit. That means someone from Idaho can grab a gun and walk around Spokane, which violates states rights, which otherwise she preaches."
That doesn't sound like the talk of an "ultra-left group" pushing a "Seattle agenda" to me, but maybe McMorris Rodgers's campaign staff is a little out of touch with the responsible gun owners in her community.
Speaking of people who might be a little out of touch with their constituents—Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell haven't been hosting a bunch of town halls in the region either, if at all. The Town Hall Project lists Murray as a "Missing Member." You might see Cantwell more this year, though, as she's running for re-election against former Washington State GOP Chair Susan Hutchison.